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Fuel cell vehicles to number 2.8 million by 2020

Hydrogen-powered trucks, buses, and light-duty vehicles gaining traction due to increased government and industry support, says Pike Research.

The Ecobus is an Arizona Public Service bus powered by Ecotality's hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Sales of vehicles powered by fuel cells running on hydrogen will surge over the next 10 years, according to a report released Tuesday by Pike Research.

By 2014 fuel cell vehicles will be a commercial reality, and by 2020 over 2.8 million fuel cell-powered cars and trucks will have been sold, according to Pike's report, "Fuel Cell Vehicles: Light Vehicles, Medium/Heavy-Duty Trucks, Transit Buses, and Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure."

About 37 percent of those vehicles will be sold in Western Europe, 36 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, and 25 percent in North America, according to Pike Research statistics.

The surge is attributed to interest from major players in the auto industry, as well as increased federal and local government support for hydrogen fueling stations. Companies that are particularly supportive of hydrogen and fuel cells are Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, according to Pike Research.

The research group predicts that the emerging market of fuel cell vehicles will generate $23.9 billion in annual revenues by 2020.

That's not to say consumers will soon see a fuel cell-powered car in every garage. Even as the number of hydrogen-powered consumer cars increases, the most likely sales surge in the immediate future will be among commercial vehicles such as municipal buses, medium and heavy-duty trucks, and light-use vehicles, according to Pike Research.

The research follows what many have been seeing in the industry over the last five years. Many U.S. cities have been keen to participate in hydrogen pilot projects powering city buses or municipal fleets with hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The U.S. government, the U.S. military, several states, and even small towns have been supporting the installation of hydrogen fueling stations and pilot projects.